The Length of a Love Song
A. O. Lee
the Saturday morning before Christmas, Karen chose to remain snuggled
warmly in her bed listening quietly to the wail of the wind, and
reflecting dreamily on her life. Outside her bedroom windows,
dangling from the branch of a tree, she could hear the windchimes
pealing in a frenzied symphony, wildly announcing the arrival
Many years before, her father had planted small pines like a brigade
around her house. By now, they had grown tall and leggy, and their
restless whispers became louder and louder with the seasonal winds
illogically transforming them into whimsical instruments that
whistled a chant from Nature's unpredictable refrain.
This was a day of solstice, a time of ancient celebrations and
rites. It was a time of year when daylight stood defenseless against
the dark and lengthy nights. It was a time of firelighting and
feasting for all.
Climbing from her bed, Karen stepped to the window to look outside
expectantly where a winter sky now hovered near in an uninviting
gray. Over the past week, the weather had grown quite cold and
wet, and a dusting of snow was in the forecast.
With all of her shopping completed, today she was free at last
to spend this quiet Saturday before Christmas lodged cozily in
her small house, wrapping gifts, baking holiday treats, and finishing
with her decorations.
From years gone by, repeated traditions that she had established
when her daughters were children kept her hanging their school
Christmas projects on her tree. Miniature Santas with elves, and
angels and snowmen, had been cut and pasted on colored construction
paper, and artistically decorated with white balls of cotton and
sprinkles of glitter. All had been thoughtfully made by a child's
small but creative hand.
Appreciated and loved, each heartfelt endeavor had been carefully
hung by their mother to adorn an ideal branch on the selected
spruce that she had purchased and placed so prominently in the
front window of her home.
Colorful trinkets and ornamental glass balls, some new and others
quite old, were hung among the blinking lights, and tinsel, and
garlands on any chosen limb. With the many gift-wrapped packages
on the floor at its base, anyone could see that Christmastime
Several times a day, Shannon had phoned her, but he'd not made
an appearance in a week. In his business, December was such an
important month of holiday partying, and he had placed himself
in charge of all the arrangements.
With a thumbnail description, he'd tried to prepare her for the
busiest month of the year, and his often impossible schedule.
But even with this intense introduction to the heart of his profession,
she had no idea how tasked he'd actually be.
With his loyalties divided, Shannon longed for more time to spend
with her, and he plied her with all sorts of solemn reasons why
she should come to Messenger's on this night, and sit where she
could watch the merriment and party activities. Wanting to see
him and please him as well, Karen surprised him by taking a cab
across town to the restaurant.
Gladdened to see her standing near the entrance, he hastily guided
her through the dividing crowd to their table for two, where he
could easily see her and her smile, and walk close by, brushing
Much later, he came to her there, and led her across the floor,
where they danced slowly, tenderly holding one another, while
Shannon sang his romantic love songs in her ear. Only for her,
he would quietly sing, and she was filled with adoration for this
handsome man who'd entered so unexpectedly into her solitary life.
At a time when she was looking the least for someone.
From behind the bar, Rory stood polishing his glassware and watching
while the couple on the dance floor swayed slowly to the music.
The first time she walked through their doors, he had been the
one to see her and her gentle blue eyes.
He'd thought her real attractive and not a painted doll, but the
kind of woman that his friend, Shannon Messenger, could truly
love. With a keen Irish eye, Rory could see that his boss looked
like a man with a light turned on in his life. And he'd fallen
in love with a voice on the phone.
The following morning, Shannon phoned early. "Karen, I have
something I want to show you!" He sounded as excited as a
small boy with a remarkable surprise, and his enthusiasm was contagious.
"Can you go for breakfast now?"
With her voice still soft with sleep, she answered, "Yes,
of course." She wasn't dressed, but that wouldn't take her
"Great!" he replied. "I'll be there shortly."
In thirty minutes, he was ringing her front doorbell.
In the car, during a hurried drive back to Messenger's, she searched
the laughing expression on his face for some clue to the purpose
of his mystery game. He'd turn and smile at her with a mischievous
gleam in his eye. He said little, so she watchfully followed his
course, and silently waited to see.
Shannon parked his car at the restaurant entrance, then led her
through the front door and across the empty dining room. Two robust
young men were energetically engaged in cleaning and vacuuming,
and paid them no attention.
Moving on, they entered the busy kitchen where the chefs in perched
white hats were preparing the specialties of the evening. As she
was directed toward the back exit, they turned to smile at her.
She smiled as well, then followed Shannon without question through
the open door.
Much to her surprise, a well-traveled footpath lay handily alongside
the rock wall banking the lake. Karen couldn't picture him at
all in the early mornings walking this way to work, but she was
wrong. Often Shannon meandered along the path in solitude, skipping
rocks over the water's surface and enjoying a brief outdoor moment.
He turned her way, gripping her lapels and pulling her warm coat
closer. "You'll probably think I'm kind of crazy bringing
you out here on such a cold morning." His breath burst in
puffs of misty white as he expressed an explanation to her. "But
I've always wanted to share this with someone, and it just doesn't
seem to happen that often."
Anxious to know and see, but not wanting to spoil his surprise,
Karen only wondered what it could be while she followed him unquestioning
along the footpath.
Together, they walked the path through the wintry landscape of
barren trees, and cedars, and great tall standing hemlocks, around
the lake's edge to a covered bridge. Crossing over, he stopped
her in the middle and leaned over the rail, looking down and pointing
into the cascading water that emptied with a swell into the lake.
"Look, Karen!" he directed her. "Can you see the
Below them, beneath the bridge, the frozen waters had joined,
creating a thin transparent layer of ice, fragile and hovering
above the falls. In some exceptional way, a clear sheet of ice
had formed a linking of the land beneath the bridge, and the sound
of falling water echoed in a strange caroling way from the chamber
of the crystal cave.
Amazed by the sight of the delicate structure, Karen clapped her
hands to her rose-tinged cheeks. "Oh, Shannon, how beautiful.
Does it always freeze like this? I've never seen anything like
Pleased with himself and her charming reaction, he explained,
"It has to get just so cold for it to freeze this way and
still allow the water to flow beneath. Some winters it happens,
and others it doesn't. There's no way of knowing. I simply watch
Shaking her head in disbelief, she asked, "And how long have
you been watching for it?" She could only guess.
"Since I was a boy," he whispered and held her close,
while their frosty breath mingled with the water's misty spray.
"I just knew you'd love it too."
Standing before her, he studied her face, and like the gatekeeper
to some lingering transcendent moment, he slowly kissed her and
allowed her passage through.
Breathlessly catching his mood, Karen sighed deeply and looked
around at the barren trees and woolen sky. "I didn't know
there was a path around the lake. Misha would love this."
"Next time, we'll bring him along," Shannon announced.
"So he can run the squirrels and get some real outdoor exercise."
"Yes, and he'll come back smelling like a dog, and have burrs
sticking to his coat."
"Well, I think he's too big to be a sweet-smelling house
pet," said Shannon, in defense of Misha. "He's too much
of a man, and he's in need of a girlfriend."
Karen laughed at him. "Obviously, you've never tried to give
a big dog a bubble bath in a tub."
"Nope, I throw 'em in the lake." At this, they both
laughed, and he kissed her cold cherry nose. "Are you good
and hungry by now?"
"Oh, yes," she exclaimed. "I'm starved."
"Well, come on then, I'll beat you to the house. I'm sure
Bridget can whip us up an omelette or something."
Walking swiftly, Karen followed his lead up the path through the
trees where the big house lodged on the lakeside. When they entered
the foyer, immediately she recognized the musty scent of old leather,
and furniture polish, and Irish breads baking in the kitchen.
He was so clever and had planned it all along.
For Christmas, his grand house was decorated with all natural
gleanings from the land. Wreaths of greenery, fir boughs, and
lengths of English Ivy from the out-of-doors, hung over the windows
and entrance to every room.
Straight ahead was a crackling fire, and garmenting the mantle
was a swag of dark pine arranged with merry red berries, and clusters
of white mistletoe. A number of large knit stockings were hung
in place in preparation for a stuffing of goodies and small trinkets.
In front of the warm fire, a table for two had been set for them.
Through another doorway, in the center of the room, stood an enormous
tree decorated with bubble lights, crystal balls, colorful ornaments,
candy canes, gingerbread men, and strings of cranberries and popcorn.
Beneath the tree, there were gaily wrapped presents arranged on
the floor in stacks and piles, like a pyramid of children's building
blocks, and surrounding it all was an amazing collection of old
There were mechanical wind-up toys, and wooden trains and trucks,
and Teddy Bears, and lovely porcelain dolls with painted faces,
and others of rag and ruin made by a loving hand. It was perfectly
clear that preparations were in progress for a Christmas of great
Cheerfully, Shannon explained, "I have several young nieces
and nephews, it's all for them. They do love the toys from the
Wide-eyed and marveling at the sight, Karen replied, "How
wonderful for them."
In an antique sled, on a red plaid coverlet, she spotted a pair
of worn, black leather, ice skates. "Are they yours?"
"They're mine," Shannon confessed. "I keep them
around as a reminder not to get too full of myself. They can bring
you down fast and hard." Comically, he rubbed his backside.
"Poor thing," she laughed amused. "I used to be
pretty good on skates, but that was many years ago. I haven't
been skating in such a long time. I used to take my girls, and
now that they're grown, well, I don't go alone."
With a raised eyebrow, he looked at her skeptically. Squeezing
her hand, he suggested, "Maybe we can go sometime, and you
can show me your skills."
When they came to the table set before the fire, a friendly Bridget
was already standing there with creamy hot coffee. Shannon introduced
the young Irish woman, the wife of his best friend. Earlier, he'd
explained how Rory had sponsored her trip, and when she arrived
in America, he had fallen in love with her.
Enchanted by her quaint Irish accent and her wonderful warm breads,
Shannon as well, fell under her spell, and immediately found a
privileged place for her in his home. She brought to them the
nurtured talents from a distant Irish village.
In front of the cozy fire, they ate an omelette breakfast, with
fresh fruit and warm fluffy scones. But too soon, their brief
stolen morning was over. When the ancient Grandfather's clock
in the foyer tolled the hour, they were cued. It was time for
him to drive her back home.
However, their Christmas was planned together. She would spend
Christmas Eve with his family here, and he would spend the next
day getting acquainted with hers. Karen was anxious about both
occasions, but Shannon seemed to take it in stride.
"In-laws are part of the penalty," he chortled.
It was only after he had driven her back home that it suddenly
occurred to her what he'd said.
ABOUT / ORDER THE LENGTH OF A LOVE SONG.
A. O. Lee lives in Franklin, Tennessee. She is a
full time writer of fiction and poetry, and The Length of
a Love Song is her first published novel.
Joyce A. O. Lee